1 of 4
Reggie Gordon can often be found at Anokha, where he enjoys the complex flavors of dishes like Chicken Saffron. Photo by Jay Paul
2 of 4
Aida Pacheco enjoys dining at Pasta House. Photo by Jay Paul
3 of 4
Rainbow Station's Gail Johnson is a fan of M Bistro and Wine Bar. Photo by Beth Ferguson.
4 of 4
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling likes the mouth-watering steaks at Hondos. Photo by Beth Ferguson
When you want to make a good culinary impression on guests, where do you take family, friends or clients? Millie's Diner, M Bistro and Wine Bar, Can Can Brasserie and Pasture are among the restaurants rated as go-to-eateries by a dozen high-profile diners who eat out at least twice weekly. These frequent diners cite consistency in delectable dishes, fresh ingredients, quality service and a welcoming ambiance at their top dining spots to showcase the Richmond area.
Reggie Gordon, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross' Virginia Capital Region, eats out daily, and his dinner club recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. "My stove has cobwebs on it," Gordon says, chuckling. "I seldom buy groceries and cook." When he has guests, he picks Millie's in Church Hill and Anokha in Short Pump for food that is complex and "not the run-of-the-mill flavors and spices." Two of the other diners, caterer Ellie Basch and Del. Joe Morrissey, also rated Millie's highly, citing the food, service, décor, coziness and diversity of clientele.
As someone who eats out almost every day, Gail Johnson, CEO and president of Rainbow Station early childhood education centers, knows restaurants.
" M Bistro in Rocketts Landing is one of the places we really like to go now," she says. "The food is exceptional, the atmosphere is ‘cool,' and more importantly, they have a patio — we love to eat outside."
Lisa Sims, deputy director of Venture Richmond, dazzles guests with Balliceaux, located on Lombardy Street near her home. "The food, drinks and cocktails are top-notch and locally sourced, the interior is warm but sophisticated ,and the clientele is eclectic — and if it's not a work night, I can stay late for live music in the back room. When we take folks, they always say, ‘Wow! We're in Richmond?' She enjoys Balliceaux's crispy braised pork belly and calls the truffle fries the "best single item on the menu." Her other choice is The Roosevelt in Church Hill for its rich, lovely food, great Virginia wine choices and intimate environment.
Richard Parison, executive director of Richmond CenterStage, struggled with choosing his top spots because many of his friends own restaurants. "I try to pick a restaurant based on the personality of my guests and the occasion. Pasture [downtown] is a favorite," he says. "When I bring guests, we are treated like we are members of their family and that is very important to me." Aziza's on Main, in Shockoe Bottom, also ranks high. "We go there because the dishes are so complex and layered and seasonal. It's a great place to take bottles of wine, sit and spend two hours with good friends and good food."
Actress, artist and author Daphne Maxwell Reid's first choice is Can Can "because of the great selection of fresh food and the great ambiance. I always see someone I know when I go." Del. Jennifer McClellan also praises the French-style Carytown bistro's food, atmosphere and wine list: "It's our choice if we're in the mood for wine."
Acacia Mid-town, in the Fan district, tops the list for Ellie Basch, co-chef and owner of Everyday Gourmet. "With Acacia, it's consistent. Any time of the week, I know I will have an excellent experience."
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has two favorite go-to-dining spots: Hondos, the chophouse in western Henrico County, and La Grotta, an Italian restaurant in Shockoe Slip. "My business office is in the West End, so we spend a lot of time out that way," he says. "It depends on the situation, [but] if I'm trying to impress somebody, in downtown it's La Grotta and in the West End it's Hondos." Johnson of Rainbow Station says that she takes business clients almost exclusively to Hondos. "They have a nice private room that sits six to eight people comfortably."
The Tobacco Company Restaurant reigns supreme for Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Henrico, when he entertains guests from outside the area, state or especially the country. "I like explaining the history of the Tobacco Company and Shockoe Slip," he says. "Plus, it has great food and great service. Sometimes you take for granted a restaurant that has been around for a long time," says Morrissey, who eats out five nights a week.
Aida Pacheco, a Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce board member, enjoys Pasta House, close to her Mechanicsville home. She says the prices there are reasonable, and the eggplant is a standout. Pacheco also singles out Havana 59 in Shockoe Bottom. It has the best sangria and mojitos, says the program administrative specialist with the Virginia Community College System's Office on Workforce Development.
During the two decades Mychael Dickerson has lived in Richmond, he has called only one restaurant his favorite: Mamma 'Zu, the Italian restaurant in Oregon Hill. "They don't spend a lot of time with the décor, but the food is by far the best I've gotten in Richmond," says Dickerson, who recently left his job as communications director for Henrico County Public Schools for a similar position in Baltimore. "Restaurants come and go, and Mamma 'Zu has been there consistently." Dickerson's other top choice is Enoteca Sogno, a North Side eatery with "great food and atmosphere."
Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, treats her guests to Amuse at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts if it's a Thursday or Friday "and especially if they have never been to Richmond," she says. "We like the food and, to varying degrees, the ambiance."
Andy Stefanovich, who does corporate branding with the company of Prophet, treats visitors to Garnett's Café in the Fan district. "It's the perfect soup, salad and sandwich shop for the price. It seats about 20 total and it's just a corner nook in the middle of the Fan," he says. "It's just a great, local, perfect little joint."